Book Review: Defending Middle Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity by Patrick Curry
“The costs [of modernity] have been horrendous, and are, unlike the benefits, increasing.”
Curry opens defending J. R. R. Tolkien against wrong-minded critics, then shifts to weaponizing Tolkien to beat his own ideological foes. That his foes are mostly English only obscures his bias to American readers. Disappointing. Since he makes several glaring errors on topics I know a little about, I suspect more lurk within.
“It has been asserted … that The Hobbit represents an alliance of the lower-middle class (Bilbo) and skilled workers, especially working class miners (the dwarves), in order to overcome a parasitic capitalist exploiter who ‘lives off the hard work of small people and accumulates wealth without being able to appreciate its value’ (the dragon). This is genuinely interesting … but it says at least as much about Marxism as a fairy [tale] as it does about The Hobbit.”
Tolkien was not a postmodern. If anything he was pre-modern, even pre-Enlightenment, because he believed that good and evil were real. He believed in God, and while there’s no church in Middle Earth, Tolkien based his entire mythos on an all-knowing, all-sufficient God. Those who claim Middle Earth was polytheistic do so from ignorance or guile.
“Modern profit-driven and state-protected science [is] a powerful counter-enchantment, much of whose power stems from being a spell that denies that it is one: a secular religion, literally a bad faith.”
Curry casually tosses Tolkien’s religion aside as irrelevant. Curry admits he judges Christianity by the externals he has witnessed, not from inside as Tolkien experienced it. Curry uses Lord of the Rings (LOTR) the way some atheists use the Bible, as a weapon against those who believe it. Despite Tolkien’s claims to the contrary, Curry asserts that LOTR is fundamentally a “pagan” work with Christianity included. A counter argument is that Tolkien meant for all the pagan myths to be included in the greater Christian mythos, which unlike the rest of them happens also to be true.
“I have been accused of using Tolkien to advance an ecological agenda. But nothing in this book about defending nature does not draw its warrant from the contents of Tolkien’s own work … I believe he himself would have thoroughly approved.”
Apparently others called him on his bias because in his Afterword, published seven years after the original work, Curry claims, “I nowhere argue that Tolkien was himself a postmodernist, nor that ecology is the only or even the most important key to his work.” His original work argues otherwise.
“As Max Weber saw long ago, religion itself becomes an enemy of enchantment when it asserts it [sic] own sole universal truth, and thus becomes entangled in aspirations to complete control and ultimate power.” Curry asserts, “So his defence of Middle-earth is fully as spiritual as it is ecological and cultural. But it is not a journey away from our lives and our home here on Earth; ultimately, and critically, it is a return.”
Does Curry admire Tolkien’s work as much as he says or has just taken them up as a cudgel in his own battles?
“There are no havens in a world where evil is a reality. If you think you live in one, you are probably naïve like the early Frodo, and certainly vulnerable.” J. R. R. Tolkien